Somebody posted a question today on a forum about the Insight Fellowship. This prompted me to write about my experience with Insight Data Science.
I applied to the INSIGHT Data Science in San Francisco three times in 2019, went through 5 interviews and still was rejected.
Some background about me - I have a PhD in Political Science from a non-US university and self-learned Data Science. I also started to code in Python around February 2019, so I was kind of fresh in my DS skills and was not yet ready for hard technical questions during the interview.
The fellowship is not for somebody fresh out of college. The preference is given to those holding a PhD in STEM. Based on my own analysis of the Insight Fellows published on the program’s website, almost half of the fellows hold PhD in (Astro)Physics or Neuroscience. Although I heard that they didn’t update this information, so the data might be outdated. Still, it gives the idea about the typical profile of an Insight Fellow.
The interview process wasn’t particularly difficult - you get about 30 mins to introduce yourself and talk about your Data Science project, showcasing your code and communicating the results online via Zoom. The “hiring” manager then asks some technical questions based on your project to evaluate your knowledge of Statistics/ML algorithms - the usual stuff that you would expect during interview for Data Science positions. My impression is that you have to be experienced in Data Science before starting the Fellowship.
It is also better if you have some project in mind during the interview, but is not necessary. This is because you will be working on your own project in a very short time frame during the fellowship. You learn by doing and through collaboration with others. So this is not a bootcamp where you get lectured.
Talking to other Insight Fellows, I learned also that they facilitate interviews with companies they cooperate with. These partnerships are not stable and change for each cohort. I got an impression that these are mostly startups looking for qualified candidates for senior roles or roles with little supervision.
Completing an Insight Fellowship doesn’t guarantee finding a job. This could have been true about 4-5 years ago, when the Data Science was just getting popular and there was not so much competition. I talked to two DS Insight Fellows who completed the fellowship in 2013 and 2017 - they found jobs in prestigious companies in Silicon Valley and Insight indeed made a difference for them. At the same time, I talked to a DS Insight Fellow who graduated recently and couldn’t secure a job even after completing the fellowship.
Of course, the interviews I had are very subjective and all have different stories, so I don’t want to generalize. My own impression is, however, that the field of Data Science got in general extremely competitive, as more and more people are drawn to it and get specialized university degrees. The golden age of the ‘self-taught’ Data Scientists are over.
Summing up, if you are academic with PhD in STEM and has Data Science skills, you have good chances of becoming an Insight Fellow. Although finding a job is not guaranteed, you will get an access to an incredible network with interesting, like-minded and very intelligent people - something that you might profit from throughout your career.
Despite numerous rejections, I still recommend applying for the Insight Fellowship. Not only I got a chance to practice communicating Data Science results during the interviews and discover my weaknesses. It also motivated me to do my own version of the INSIGHT sprint. In about four weeks, I completed the “IPO Bubble” project, in which I scraped data from NASDAQ and YahooFinance and modeled the IPO success on its first day of trading. So for me the experience was definitely worth it.